The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has denied the May 2011 petition filed by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) seeking an interpretive rule declaring certain antibiotic-resistant (ABR) strains of Salmonella to be adulterants when found in raw ground meat and raw ground poultry. Additional information about the petition appears in Issue 396 of this Update. CSPI also asked the agency “to ensure adequate sampling and testing for these pathogens and to remove contaminated ground meat and ground poultry products from the human food supply.”

FSIS essentially found insufficient data to distinguish ABR Salmonella strains from other Salmonella strains that are susceptible to antibiotics and thus stated that additional data on the characteristics of ABR Salmonella are needed to determine whether the strains identified in the petition “could qualify as adulterants under the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA) (21 U.S.C. 601 et seq.) and the Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA) (21 U.S.C. 453 et seq.).” The agency’s July 31, 2014, letter to CSPI distinguishes the shiga toxin-producing E-coli (STEC) that have been declared adulterants from ABR Salmonella, noting that “[b]ased on current data, Salmonella does not appear to present the same issues as STEC, regardless of whether it is resistant or susceptible to antibiotics.”

FSIS also referred to the Codex Guidelines for Risk Analysis of Foodborne Antimicrobial Resistance in its response, noting that it is “in line with the current FSIS approach used to assess the human health risks associated with specific pathogens.” According to the agency, “The Codex document clearly illustrates the types of additional information that would be necessary to declare the ABR strains of Salmonella Hadar, Salmonella Heidelberg, Salmonella Newport, and Salmonella Typhimurium as adulterants when found in raw ground meat and raw ground poultry. At this time, FSIS believes that neither the petition nor our own research provide sufficient data to support such a claim.”

CSPI Food Safety Director Caroline Smith DeWaal said, “USDA’s failure to act on antibiotic-resistant strains of Salmonella in the meat supply ignores vital information about the public health risk posed by these pathogens. Despite numerous examples of outbreaks linked to resistant pathogens, USDA leaves consumers vulnerable to illnesses that carry a much greater risk of hard-totreat infections leading to hospitalization.” See CSPI Press Release, July 31, 2014.